Monday, June 4, 2018

Grading RADM Spruance's Performance at the Battle of Midway

Routine administrative paperwork rarely makes for interesting reading. On occasion, though, the documents generated by Navy bureaucracy can be illuminating, especially when they are associated with important historical events. In honor of the anniversary of the Battle of Midway, today's highlight is the officer fitness report that was filed for Admiral Raymond Spruance following the events of June 4-7, 1942.

Two of the three carriers that participated in the battle, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), together comprised Task Force 16. Veterans of the Doolittle raid as well as smaller raids on Japanese held islands in the Pacific, its commander was Vice Admiral William Halsey. In late May 1942, Halsey contracted shingles and was forced to turn over his command while he recovered. The head of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester Nimitz, asked him who should take over in his absence. Halsey had anticipated this question and handed over a letter recommending Spruance due to his outstanding performance as the commander of TF 16’s cruiser division. The two had become close friends despite their contrasting command styles – Halsey was outgoing and aggressive in battle while Spruance’s demeanor was quiet and reflective even under the stress of war. Now Spruance got the nod to lead TF 16 in combat.

Spruance’s boss during the Battle of Midway, Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, was also new to carrier operations, having commanded cruisers and battleships for most of his career. Luckily for both, they inherited experienced staffs who took care of flight operations, leaving them free to concentrate on making critical decisions. In Spruance’s case, his most valuable aid was Halsey’s chief of staff, Captain Miles Browning. Having earned his wings in 1924, Browning served Spruance well and advised him on all aviation matters. The two did have disagreements during the battle, however, and there were several instances when Spruance overruled him.

The most important example of this occurred at 7:45 AM on June 4 as the initial strikes were getting airborne. Spruance ordered the dive bombers that had launched first to proceed on their mission without waiting for the torpedo bombers that comprised the rest of the attack wave. Enterprise had intercepted a radio transmission from a Japanese scout plane indicating that TF 16 had been sighted, and Spruance did not want to delay his own attack. He changed the plan and sent the dive bombers on their way. This decision allowed them to save just enough fuel to conduct a search at the end of their flight which resulted in locating the Japanese carriers Kaga and Akagi.

Fitness report filed for RADM Raymond A. Spruance on August 14, 1942
Courtesy of the Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College
(click to enlarge)

In mid-August, Fletcher completed his assessment of Spruance’s performance as a commander. After noting that Spruance’s flagship was “operating with a major task force of the Pacific Fleet under conditions of war,” Fletcher went on to rate Spruance a perfect 4/4 in his present assignment and a 3.9/4 for ability to command. His remarks convey fully but succinctly the depth of his respect for Spruance: “An outstanding flag officer who has proved his capabilities in action. Has only come under my personal observation and command at Battle of Midway but his actions on that occasion leave no doubt as to his character and ability.”

Spruance's and Halsey’s careers remained closely connected, each experiencing triumph and the sting of criticism in the years that followed. Spruance went on to command Fifth Fleet and presided over The Battle of the Philippine Sea which resulted in the destruction of most of Japan's remaining carrier aircraft. Much of the surface fleet escaped, however, leading some to suggest that Spruance had been too timid when presented with a golden opportunity. Likewise, Halsey finally got his chance to command in a pivotal battle when his carriers participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Though his pilots sank four Japanese carriers, he was criticized for leaving the American invasion fleet in the Philippines nearly defenseless while he chased what turned out to be a decoy force far to the north. Nevertheless, both men survived the war and received honors for their roles in helping to win it. Halsey was promoted to Fleet Admiral in December 1945 and remains the most recent officer to hold that rank. Spruance served as the twenty-sixth President of the Naval War College, with his term running from March 1946 until his retirement in July 1948.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Attack on USS Panay

When Japan invaded China in the summer of 1937, its armed forces quickly moved on the capital of Nanking. By early December, it was clear that the city could not hold out for long, and the foreigners who remained within its limits tried desperately to flee. To aid in the evacuation of Americans, the U.S. Navy sent the gunboat USS Panay (PR-5), a river patrol boat assigned to the Asiatic Fleet to protect shipping on the Yangtze River. Following the retrieval of the last American citizen, Panay moved upriver to provide armed escort for three Standard Oil tankers.

On the afternoon of December 12, Panay and the tankers were riding at anchor with American flags flying when they suddenly came under attack by Japanese aircraft. Three Yokosuka B4Y Type-96 bombers and nine Nakajima A4N Type-95 fighters bombed and strafed the four ships, sending them to the bottom of the river while killing four people and wounding forty-eight. Small boats carrying the wounded also came under attack.

The incident touched off a crisis between the governments of the United States and Japan. Japanese officials maintained that it was a case of mistaken identity, and that their pilots never spotted the American flags each ship flew. Nevertheless, their government agreed to accept responsibility for the attack, issued a formal apology, and paid an indemnity of $2,214,007. This ended the crisis, though American public opinion turned sharply against Japan in the weeks that followed.

USS Panay (PR-5)
Gift of Dr. Lawrence Cohen

The Naval War College Museum recently received this model of Panay as a gift from Dr. Lawrence Cohen of Wappingers Falls, New York. Dr. Cohen built the model from scratch and won several awards for his craftsmanship in local model building contests. We are pleased to have it in our collection and hope to use it to educate our visitors about the important events in Asia that preceded World War II.

Closeup of 3"/50 caliber gun mounted on bow of USS Panay
Gift of Dr. Lawrence Cohen
Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum

Monday, April 16, 2018

Posters from World War I

Following American entry into World War I, the United States government faced the immediate problem of how to finance the massive buildup in the armed forces that began in spring 1917. The national debt already stood at approximately $3,500,000,000, and Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo realized that more borrowing would be required. Government bonds could provide the money if the public bought them, but would they? President Woodrow Wilson had won a second term in office based on his promise to keep the U.S. out of the war, then reversed course following the explosive revelation of the Zimmermann Telegram in January 1917. Still, significant numbers of Americans, especially those of German descent, preferred to remain neutral rather than become embroiled in the European war. To motivate Americans to lend their financial support to the war effort, McAdoo instituted the Liberty Loan Bond drives. From 1917-1919, the government issued five series of war bonds, including one after the armistice was signed, that raised a total of $17,000,000,000.

Though successful in the end, the initial response to the Liberty Loans was tepid. McAdoo determined that a strong advertising campaign was needed, so he hired some of the most popular illustrators of the day to make posters that urged Americans to buy bonds out of a sense of patriotic duty. These posters quickly sprung up on street corners, theaters, shop windows, recruiting offices, and anywhere else the public was likely to see them.

The Naval War College Museum recently received a donation of twenty-six WWI posters, a few of which can be seen in our new exhibit about the Navy in the First World War. Prior to their arrival at the museum, the posters were kept in storage almost continuously after being produced. Since they were rarely exposed to sunlight, the colors on the posters remain bright and vibrant. Below are three examples from this amazing collection.

Gift of Jenifer Burckett-Picker
Machine guns saw widespread use in the trenches along the front lines of France and Belgium. Artist Casper Emerson Jr. produced this poster in which normal machine gun bullets have been substituted with war savings bonds. The image drove home the point that bond sales provided the money needed to keep soldiers supplied with ammunition.

Gift of Jenifer Burckett-Picker
John W. Norton created this poster for the Third Liberty Loan dive which began on April 5, 1918. The image references the war crimes that German soldiers were accused of committing during their occupation of Belgium. While there was never any real threat of Germany invading the United States, the danger felt real to Americans who kept up with war stories in the newspapers.

Gift of Jenifer Burckett-Picker
The girl in this poster is clutching a liberty loan bond. The Department of the Treasury produced the poster, though the artist is unknown.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum

Thursday, March 29, 2018

National Vietnam War Veterans Day

CAPT Kay Russell

March 29 is National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Two years ago, we were fortunate to receive a donation from the son of CAPT Kay Russell, a naval aviator who served time in a North Vietnamese POW (prisoner of war) camp. When I first saw the shirt he wore as a POW and the letters he wrote home to his family, I was touched by the deeply personal nature of this collection, and I knew that we had to share it with our visitors.

Kay Russell was born in 1934 in Stephenville, Texas. He earned his commission through the NROTC program at Rice University in 1956. Russell graduated from flight training in 1958 and flew F4D Skyrays with VF(AW)-3 at NAS North Island, California. The following year he switched to the FJ-3 Fury and then again to the F-8 Crusader, ultimately taking an assignment with VU-7 at NAAS Brown Field, California. After a number of intermediate assignments, he joined VF-211 at NAS Miramar and was deployed to Vietnam aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) in January 1966. On May 19, 1967, LCDR Russell’s section of four aircraft was engaged by a MiG-17 while flying over North Vietnam. As the American aircraft began to maneuver, Russell’s wingman reported seeing an explosion followed by falling metal fragments. Thankfully, he also spotted a parachute on the ground soon after. As Russell jokingly told an audience years later, he managed to evade capture “for fully thirty seconds” before enemy soldiers found him.

POW uniform worn by LCDR Russell
Naval War College Museum Collection
(click to enlarge)
Letter written by LCDR Russell to his family in 1970
Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

Upon his arrival in Hanoi, Russell’s captors gave him a striped uniform to wear complete with an identification number. This marked the beginning of 2,117 days - nearly five and a half years - spent in captivity. To pass the time, Russell composed songs that he sang in hushed tones with the other prisoners in his cell. He quickly learned the tap code that POWs used to communicate between cells and even led church services in the afternoons. Like his fellow prisoners, Russell endured periodic beatings and torture at the hands of his guards. Holidays were an especially difficult time for the POWs. Fortunately for them, the Red Cross was occasionally allowed access to their camps and delivered letters from home whenever possible. Russell took advantage of their visits to send letters to his family and let them know that he was thinking of them. Interestingly, the Navy also used the opportunity to look for clues about conditions inside the camps based on Russell’s letters. Analysts studied his handwriting and noted the tone of his letters. From this, they determined that his physical condition was weak, though not dangerously so, and that he was standing up well to the mental stress of captivity.

(click to enlarge)
Analysis of LCDR Russell's Letter
Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College
CDR Russell and his fellow POWs were finally released as part of Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. Following recovery from his injuries, Russell returned to active status with the Navy. He joined the faculty of the Naval War College in 1976 where he served as the head of the Strategy & Policy division for correspondence courses and taught in the Department of Strategy. CAPT Russell passed away on active duty in 1979. His awards include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with Valor, and the Purple Heart.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, March 23, 2018

Submarine Propeller Returns Home to Newport

L-8 propeller arriving at Naval Station Newport
Photo by Liz DeLucia, Director of Education

File this under “Not Something You See Everyday!” Last month we received a call from the president of CONUSUB, a commercial diving company, about a unique artifact in his possession. He and several of his associates had recovered a propeller from the wreck of an early twentieth-century American submarine, and he wanted to find a good home for it.

The team that recovered the propeller from the L-8 wreck site
L-R: Stephen Moy, Eva Longobardi, Kenny Sheehan, Donald Gunning, Greg DeAscentis

The submarine, L-8, was sunk for target practice in Narragansett Bay in 1926, so it has a strong connection with our local history here in Newport. While we were eager to receive the propeller for our collection, the logistics of getting it from downtown Newport to the museum proved to be a challenge. Fortunately the facilities crew of Naval Station Newport stepped in to help and transported the propeller to our storage facility.

Photo by Liz DeLucia, Director of Education

Its next stop is the Navy’s conservation labs in Washington DC where it will undergo cleaning and treatment in order to prepare it for display. Thank you to the members of the facilities crew for their outstanding work in making this happen!

L-8 was laid down on 24 February 1915 at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire and launched on 23 April 1917. The L-class was the product of the U.S. Navy’s first attempt at building ocean-going submarines. L-8 had a range of 4,500 nautical miles with a top speed of 14 knots on the surface and 10.5 knots submerged. She carried eight torpedoes (four in bow tubes and four reloads) and was also armed with a retractable three-inch deck gun.

L-8 in dry dock at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, 1917
NH 51135
Naval History & Heritage Command

Following training operations along the east coast, L-8 steamed for the Azores in November 1918 to join Submarine Division 6 in anti-submarine patrols during the World War I. She arrived in Bermuda on 13 November only to discover that the armistice had taken effect two days earlier, and was ordered to return to the United States.

A torpedo armed with a magnetic influence exploder passes
under L-8 during tests conducted on 26 May 1926
NH 88457
Naval History & Heritage Command

The following year, L-8 joined the submarine flotilla on the west coast. There she conducted experimented with new torpedoes and undersea detection equipment. She returned to the east coast in 1922 and arrived at Hampton Roads where she was decommissioned on 15 November. But the Navy wasn’t finished with her quite yet. L-8’s final destination was Newport, Rhode Island, where she was turned over to the Naval Torpedo Station for testing. On 26 May 1926, L-8 was destroyed as a target to test the effectiveness of the Navy’s new magnetic influence exploders for torpedoes. This was the only test with live torpedoes of magnetic exploders conducted by the Navy before World War II.

L-8 sinks after a successful hit
NH 88458
Naval History & Heritage Command

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Thursday, May 18, 2017

USS Mississippi (BB-41)

In the summer of 1941, USS Mississippi (BB-41) departed from Newport, RI escorting a convoy to Hvalfjordur, Iceland. In Iceland, Mississippi was tasked with protecting shipping facilities. This mission expired after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Mississippi left Iceland for the Pacific on December 9, 1941. After arriving in San Francisco, she took part in exercises to prepare for initial operations against the Japanese Navy.

Ship's wheel, USS Mississippi
Throughout the Second World War, she engaged in numerous missions and earned eight battle stars. These missions include transporting troops to Fiji from 1942-1943, the restoration of the Aleutian Islands, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, the shelling of Kwajalein during the Marshall Island campaign in 1944, the liberation of the Philippines, and the battle of Surigao Strait. These are only a few of her notable contributions to U.S. forces in WWII. After Japan surrendered, Mississippi steamed to Sagami Wan, Honshu, and arrived on August 27 as part of the occupation force.

USS Mississippi passing under the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, circa late 1930s
Her fate came in 1956 when Mississippi was decommissioned and deconstructed. Today, few parts remain; those that do provide a glimpse into the past. A few of these artifacts reside at the Naval War College Museum in Newport, RI.

Andy Cirioli
Naval War College Museum intern

Andy is a student at Salve Regina University who recently completed a semester-long internship with us. He will be graduating this month, and the entire NWCM staff would like to offer their congratulations and best wishes for the future!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Patriotism or Opportunity? Naval Recruits in Newport During the First World War

Naval Training Station Newport was already a busy place when the United States entered the First World War on April 6, 1917. The base operated schools for yeomen, signalmen, hospital corpsmen, commissarymen, musicians, and firemen, as well as a preparatory school for the Naval Academy. On the eve of war, approximately 2,000 recruits lived and trained on Coasters Harbor Island at any given time. That number swelled to over 10,000 following the American declaration of war against Germany. This massive influx of men and women required new housing, training facilities, and infrastructure for the base. Almost overnight, two new training areas named Camp Palmer and Camp Sadler sprang up on Coasters Harbor Island. Tents, temporary barracks, mess halls, and auxiliary buildings filled almost every available piece of open ground. When no more room was left, the Navy bought 161 acres on Coddington Point and began expanding toward Middletown.

The Newport Recruit, vol. 1 no. 4
Box 2, News Collection 9
Naval Historical Collection, U.S. Naval War College

The base newspaper, The Newport Recruit, included an editorial in the April 1917 edition that reflected on the chain of events that had brought the country to the brink of war (it was published one day before the United States entered the conflict), beginning with President Wilson’s decision to maintain U.S. neutrality when fighting first broke out in Europe:

We saw treaties violated, international law defied, and neutral rights utterly disregarded; we saw truth, and justice, and fairplay outraged, we saw blockades instituted that were as illegal as they were indefensible, mines strewn upon the high seas in defiance of every rule of war, submarines let loose to do their will, and all the hideous nightmares of inhumanity which followed when belligerent outvied belligerent in the ghastly work of retaliation.

One month later, the editors commented on the influx of new trainees pouring into Newport. Though the Selective Service Act of 1917 required all men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service, the editors noted that the imposition of the draft did not seem to be lowering the quality of recruits who arrived at the Training Station:

We are getting the finest and the best of our young manhood, but we are delighted to find that the people’s representatives have seen fit to recognize the fact that citizenship has its responsibilities as well as its privileges and that the first and most vital of these is the duty of National Defense.

Physical training at Naval Station Newport, c. 1915
Naval War College Museum Collection
It is interesting to contrast their observations with those made just one year earlier. An editorial in the April 1916 edition of The Newport Recruit complained that in the articles submitted to the newspaper for publication, sailors usually mentioned the educational, physical, and financial benefits of joining the Navy as among their reasons for enlisting. Few, however, cited patriotism as a motive. The editors wondered aloud if the young men of that generation were too materialistic to make good sailors.

Now we don’t for one moment suppose that these young men are unpatriotic, but we do believe that material considerations have so weaned them from an unselfish point of view that patriotism instead of being the compelling impulse behind their interest in the Navy, is merely a secondary issue.

They are more concerned with pay, opportunities of advancement, opportunities of travel, opportunities of acquiring a trade, and opportunities of saving money, than they are in the honor of being enrolled as first line defenders of the Flag. All this is so close to the mercenary spirit, and so utterly divorced from the standard of value which was dear to our fathers, that it is time to make a mild protest against it.

They need not have worried. By the end of the First World War, 65,000 sailors had graduated from the training schools in Newport. Many of them went on to serve in the Atlantic Fleet where their duties included convoy protection, anti-submarine patrols, and laying the North Sea mine barrage, a defensive barrier intended to keep German U-boats out of the Atlantic. Their success in carrying out these operations ensured that American troops reached the front in Europe and contributed to the Allied victory in 1918.

Rob Doane

Curator, Naval War College Museum